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Developing empathy: Why disability awareness is crucial

October 31, 2023

Portrait: Tony Dixon in a suit with Forest Service lapel pin. American & Forest Service flags behind him.
Deputy Chief Tony Dixon, Business Operations

During National Disability Employment Awareness Month and beyond, we celebrate the contributions and differences of Forest Service employees and reinforce our commitment to an inclusive workplace culture.

Jennifer McGuire and I have the honor of co-sponsoring the disability employee resource group, Dynamic Employees Beyond Disabilities. It has been so rewarding to be a part of this group. I am endlessly inspired by the diversity and creativity that the disability community brings to the Forest Service.

One of our Forest Service values that speaks deeply to me is diversity. We find it in people and cultures, perspectives and ideas, experiences and ecosystems. By acknowledging, appreciating and celebrating our differences, we honor this value and make the Forest Service a better agency overall. Regardless of our differences, our spirit is one of ability, resolve and courage that no disability can diminish.  

It is important to remember that any of us could someday have a disability. Disability awareness also helps change the stereotypical mindset of society—by celebrating our abilities rather than defining individuals by their disabilities—we develop empathy and provide opportunities for everyone to contribute to our work and our agency.

Disability awareness provides an opportunity to educate one another not just about disabilities, but about how we can collectively and individually support each other. People with disabilities often experience discrimination, or they are reduced to only their wheelchair, or their blindness, or their mental health struggles. I encourage each of you to promote disability awareness every month in order to develop a strong foundation of empathy and help break social barriers.

I am proud of the work the Forest Service is doing to hire and retain employees with disabilities—seen and unseen—and I am proud to be a part of an agency that values a diverse workforce, including individuals with disabilities. For more information or to get involved, please reach out to DEBD.

Editor's Note: Provide feedback about this column, submit questions or suggest topics for future columns through the FS-Employee Feedback inbox.